Sneed finished 43rd in his first Masters, in 1974, and in two subsequent appearances missed the 36-hole cut and tied for 18th, although he always felt that his game and his attitude were better suited to Augusta than was reflected in those performances.
Sneed is a stylish golfer, with an elegant, supple swing. It has puzzled many people, including himself, that he has won only three tour events in his 10-year career. A consistent player, floating between 25th and 50th on the money list, Sneed has measurably improved his game in the last few years under the watchful eye of teaching pro George Fazio. Among his peers he is known for his engaging wit and playful sense of humor. He is one of only a handful of PGA players who do not list fishing as a "special interest" in the tour press guide, preferring instead the more cerebral challenges of bridge, chess, backgammon and billiards. To the public, he is a handsome figure—boyish, sandy-haired and, at 6'2" and 190 pounds, athletic-looking. He is often taken to be a relative of Sam Snead. Last fall, during a tournament in Japan, he was waiting to start a round when a commentator stepped onto the tee to conduct an interview for the gallery. "So," the man began, "in America you are known as Ed." The man put the microphone in front of Sneed.
"I wasn't sure what he meant," Sneed says. "The Japanese must think Ed is a nickname and not my real name. I told him that although my name is Sneed, I'm not related to Sam Snead, that our names are spelled differently."
The interviewer tried another question. "So, in Japan we watch your popular television program, Mr. Ed."
Sneed was momentarily nonplussed, but quickly replied, "I'm not related to him, either."
As he approached the 1979 Masters, Sneed's game started to come together in that mysterious process golfers refer to as getting "in the groove." Some intangible factor is suddenly present and the golfer is in total control, fully confident of each shot. At the Sea Pines Heritage Classic, two weeks before Augusta, Sneed had rounds of 69-69-71-66—275 on the tight and demanding Harbour Town Golf Links, and finished second, five shots behind Watson. But he beat the third finisher by four strokes. (The previous week, in the Tournament Players Championship at Sawgrass, Sneed had shot 76-76 and missed the cut, keeping intact his streak of never having played the final rounds of the TPC.)
He took off the week of the Greensboro tournament to relax and practice at Augusta. Early in the week he played with Ken Venturi, the 1964 U.S. Open champion, who now does commentary for CBS golf telecasts. As an amateur in 1956, Venturi had almost won the Masters, leading for three days, then shooting a last-round 80 to finish second by a stroke to Jackie Burke. Sneed reflects:
"It was a different me that came to Augusta in 1979. After playing what I considered to be one of my best tournaments ever at the Heritage, I felt prepared and ready to win. In practice I seemed able to play any shot with ease—left-to-right, right-to-left, low fades, high, soft, knockdown. Every shot I hit seemed to be within a controlled pattern. Each day my confidence rose. Never had my preparation for a single golf tournament been so complete or my confidence so high.
"Venturi and I played together on Sunday and afterward, on the practice tee, he told me, 'Ed, I really think you can win this. I've just got a feeling it's your week.'
"It was exciting to have someone see what I was feeling and, despite the anticipation of winning a major championship, I was more relaxed than ever before a competitive event. I felt a very quiet confidence, something the great players must feel when they're at the top of their games. I simply knew that I was going to win."